Sunday, January 30, 2011

Smooth Sailing of Life via Organization & Time-Management ~ For Students

There's a trend in much of the Eastern part of the world of arriving fashionably late to gatherings such as dinners and weddings. If an invitation card claims that the event will take place at 8:00 PM, the event will most likely start at 9:30 PM, and much later if it is a wedding. If some naive soul turns up at the door at 8:00 PM, he would most likely have to wait quite a while for his food - maybe even alone. "Desi Standard Time", as people of the subcontinent fondly call it. This is where you add half an hour to 3 hours to the original time, as stated by an online dictionary.

This is one thing we should learn to appreciate from the West- their general organizational skills and punctuality. If somebody turns up an hour or two late for a dinner, sadly all of the food will be gone. Things are systematic here, and there isn't always a battle to get a job done. Of course, we cannot change entire nations in one go, but we can start off with ourselves.

What we need to first of all consider is the importance of sticking to a schedule. Let's turn to the 5 daily prayers - at dawn, early afternoon, late afternoon, sunset, and twilight. The fact that we pray at 5 different times rather than all in one go elucidates the importance of doing things consistently and in an organized manner, rather than lumping everything together when we want to. This is what we call procrastination, a disease widespread amongst the youth, causing bright and capable students to get lower grades than they could potentially achieve, and also increasing their stress levels.

"You live life once", people say, so you should enjoy it. Others say "you live life once", and they mean that you should accomplish something in the little time you have. Although I lean more towards the latter, I would say there should be a balance. This is hard for most of the youth because it's a time where they want to be carefree and enjoy every second of life by doing exciting and risky things. I remember when I was in university, sometimes my friends would want to ditch classes and go out somewhere. I would be the only loner saying "Uh, I don't think this is such a good idea". A couple of times I gave in when I knew nothing important would happen in class that day. But obviously, I had to call my mom first, "Assalamu Alaikum, Ammi. Can I have permission to ditch class and go to the mall today with my friends because it's not such an important lesson?" My friends would always laugh at my silliness and I would laugh along, but I knew that my mother would always trust me if she knew I would responsibly tell her what I'm up to, and not once have I had to hide from her to do something because of that trust. It's true that the youth should enjoy their life and create memories for when they are older and can look back to their childhood or teen years and smile, but they should also remember that according to many ahadith, this is the most beloved time to Allah for people to turn to Him and act responsibly- not in old age as people usually do.

So, how should we keep organized in our life? Here are some pointers from a student who took 22 credit hours every semester for 2 years:

1. Determination

If you want to achieve something, there has to be will-power. You have to firmly believe that you can do it, and Allah is always there you help you. Allah (SWT) is capable of doing anything- He created the sun, the moon, the oceans, mountains, the entire universe and everything in it, including us. Never underestimate the power of dua. Allah is only waiting for us to ask Him. Have faith in Him and yourself.

2. Goal-orientation

Figure out what you're going to try to achieve in the next couple of years. Starting off with brainstorming helps. Include both academic and non-academic activities, and some sort of spiritual development as well. This will help you organize your plans. For example, my academic goal was to complete university in early 2009, which was going to be earlier than I was supposed to. For this, I had to write down which courses I will be taking each semester 2 years in advance, keeping all of the prerequisites for each subject in mind and planning accordingly. This made my goal more focused.

3. Planner

This is a necessity for students to keep them from forgetting important dates. With numerous quizzes, presentations, projects and finals, with different dates for each subject, keeping a planner is a must. One can also write down what they will be studying for that day. It's ideal to prepare for a class beforehand and revise afterwards, but with a lot of courses it can be difficult. We should aim to do this as much as we can, nevertheless. Also, make a general schedule for the day. Making an hour by hour schedule will most probably not work. I usually made my schedule revolve around the prayer timings. I would usually be in university until after Zuhur. Sometimes I would hit the books from Asr to Maghrib (yes, nerdy, I know), then Maghrib to Isha was always family time, and then the studies continued after Isha. The schedule obviously varies from student to student, depending on the number of courses they're taking, and how much work their professors give them. And no, the professors who give you the most work are not "cruel"; you will miss them the most after you graduate inshaAllah :)

I would also advise students to do things ahead of time; if there's homework due on Monday, don't start it Sunday night. The night before something is due you should be revising and looking over it, not starting it! If you leave for school at 7:00 AM, try to pack your bags and get everything ready the day before. Simple things like these make life less hectic and more calm.

Do things on time according to your planner, we don't need more people running according to DST!

4. Neatness

Some would call me extreme, but neat and tidy notes were always essential in my life, and they still are in my current classes. I was more picky about it in university though. It came to the point that I could not even bear to look at my notes if I had scribbled something on it during class. I would actually rewrite all of it, using color coordination with highlighters or colored pens (black, blue, red), and of course, post-its. I feel like this really helped me in my exams. Firstly, since it was neat and colorful, I would actually want to look at my notes and study, rather than a messy scribbling written in pencil. Secondly, I remember during my exams it helped me because I would be sitting in the exam hall, remembering any diagrams I had drawn or colors used for something particular. That's when the answer would click. I also used a lot of acronyms throughout my student life, which made it much easier to remember things. Making a funny story to link things also does wonders :)

Aside from neat notes, I felt that keeping my room clean while studying also helped in clearing my thoughts. A cluttered room leads to a cluttered mind, in my opinion. Cleaning up helps in not getting distracted and organizing the mind as well. This may not apply to all people, but growing up, I was taught that a messy room should make your eyes "sting", so it was always something important to me.

5. Breaks and outings

Last but not least, it's crucial to enjoy yourself! Studying too much can lead to too much stress and burning out. Taking breaks to rejuvenate oneself and refreshen ones mind is important in student life. In between studies, get up to grab a snack or drink (halal!), talk to family or friends, or just go for a short walk outside for fresh air. Every few days it would also be a good idea to go for an outing to anywhere you enjoy, and then come back home with a clear, refreshed mind. Let's face it, we all need breaks!

With these tips in mind, I hope we all strive to excel in whatever we are learning. Remember, learning is a lifelong process! رَبِّ زِدْنِي عِـلْمً


  1. exams just ended! m not drifting, but its a different way to look at it. External factors play an important role in defining one's concept of time. I believe timeliness has a lot to do with with one's surroundings rather than a personal trait. For instance, Pakistanis living abroad have a more punctual concept than the same Pakistanis living in Pakistan or communicating with Pakistanis. In Comparative Management, we studied that people in the Middle East also consider time to be relative and not absolute, where the + - 3 hours was considered a cultural norm rather than a personal trait.

  2. Glad your exams are over! I understand that the concept of punctuality differs from culture to culture, but we need to look at it firstly from the point of view of prayers (scheduling), and secondly, isn't it a form of dishonesty? That's how I tend to see it - you are saying one thing but you mean something else. We are going to be held accountable for everything, and this is just one form of saying something that you don't mean. Cultures can change - if India and Pakistan are becoming so Westernized in terms of TV and music, then this change can occur too.

    I'm not bashing Pakistan in particular, you know I love my motherland :) We should just strive to take the best of all cultures and do away with what is not right.

  3. Ive explained 2 contrasting situations!...wish we were all organized...but with so much inconsistency and unpredictability in one's surroundings, its impossible to remain on track. Up here we have to have the ability to respond to situations spontaneously, planning only works just as much...

  4. basically the above post was supposed to come straight after the first one..just realized I hadn't posted it yet..

    I personally believe that we should be more punctual in Pakistan, and the trend is changing slowly and gradually. The fact of the matter is that depending on situation to situation it changes, if its a business transaction then trust me people are on time, but as far as weddings are concerned, ppl choose to be fashionably late. However, Ive noticed that weddings in halls tend to finish up earlier. As far as dishonesty is concerned, I guess that varies, as if ure invited to attend a certain function and it is supposed to start at 9, then I guess its upto u when to turn up. Yes, if I have committed to a certain time then its incumbent that is should be followed, and alhamdolillah majority of the people seem to be following it depending on the relationship and reason for the meeting. Hope I am making sense here!

  5. Well, it's good to hear that things are "slowly and gradually" starting to change, Alhumdulillah. I just feel if people worldwide are able to pick up other not so useful qualities of the West (dressing, style, attitude to an extent etc) then why not the positives? This is why there has been development in the West, because of how organized things are. I remember in UAE and Malaysia we had to run around the whole city sometimes to get one job done.

    Not being ethnocentric here. We should follow good qualities from all different cultures - the jazba of Pakistanis to help each other, the humbleness of the Malays, the systematic style of the Americans, hardworking nature of Indians, and generosity of the Emiratis :)

  6. Great article Seher. Entertaining, articulate, and motivating.

    When Seher graduated from UAEU its ranking must have dropped.

  7. Assalaamu Alaikum Seher, loving your blog =) And the DST thing used to make me bonkers when I lived in Pakistan. I'd get chest pain every time we were not on time but my husband tried to explain how everyone's not on time and I just really couldn't cope for quite a long time. It still bothers me..but I've loosened up...a little. =)

  8. Husband: Ok ok enough with trying to score points! Lol :P Jazak Allah Khair for the kind words!

    Aisha Baji: Walaikum Assalam wr wb. I can't imagine how difficult it must have been for you! Going to Pakistan as a convert from American background, plus you're so super-organized, mashaAllah! It's tough. I'm just waiting for the day that the norms change, inshaAllah :)

  9. Nice tips, I start my second year at uni in March, and it's weird that I can't wait to go back since I have been on holidays for 5-6 months.

    I am following your blog and I would love it if you could check out my blog: .


  10. Hi Jaci, thanks for dropping by! Wishing you all the best in your university. University life is known as the best years of a person's life, so I'm sure it'll be great!

    Thank you for following :)

  11. You have been tagged. I don't know if you have done this tag or have been tagged before.


  12. Very helpful
    I started doing the color coordinating thing and got newer notebooks that are soon to be neater (iA) and in school these days, everyones assigned an agenda (planner) so I got that too but I will keep it neat cause I usually doodle in it.

  13. Yup, neatness is key! =) It really helps when it's time to revise.

  14. Asalaamualaik, Seher Baaji!
    These are some really good pointers, MashAllah. I find that it's essential to take good notes and keep them well organized. Sometimes, I trust my notes more than the text-- since I've simplified it to my "brain-language". lol
    JazakAllah and may Allah SWT increase you and accept your efforts! Ameen.

  15. Really a cool article as this matches with my thinking and my way of living life..

  16. Aisha: Walaikum Assalam! Good point about simplifying the notes according to your understanding! I find myself in the same position - just reading the textbook will not help in the courses! And same dua to you iA =)

    Dinesh: Thanks for dropping by!